June 26 (UPI) -- Despite early signs of success, reintroduced lynx populations are still under threat.
A new survey suggests illegal hunting near the border region among Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria continues to depress the predator's numbers.
In the 1980s, Czech officials reintroduced 18 lynxes to Bohemian Forest National Park. Up until 1998, the population grew and expanded. But the latest research suggests the population shrank between 1998 and 2014 as a result of illegal hunting.
Scientists built a model to simulate the evolution of the lynx population in the region, accounting for reproduction, mortality rates, mobility, ecology and other factors. The model considered the risk of traffic accidents as the growing population moved into contact with road networks.
When researchers compared the simulation's predictions with real world observations, they found natural mortality risks nor the threat of motor vehicles could account for the shrinking population numbers. As a result, scientists concluded illegal hunting explains a significant portion of lynx losses over the last two decades.
"Sadly this is right in the international trend when it comes to the level of mortality caused by humans," Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, landscape ecologist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research Berlin, said in a news release.
The simulations also showed the population is at an increased risk of collapse as the threat of illegal hunting persists.
"The probability that the population may die out again is up to 74 percent in an unfortunate case," said conservation biologist Marco Heurich.
The research, published this week in the journal Biological Conservation, suggests the protected habitat in the region is sufficient to support a stable lynx population, but only if officials can squash the threat of illegal hunting.